The good and bad of a new sweetener: erythritol

If you’ve decided to give up sugar, congratulations on your wise decision! An overwhelming amount of research has linked refined sugar to high blood glucose, triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure, as well as heart disease, tooth decay, inflammation, and many more.

If you’re giving up table sugar, you’re probably looking for a substitute sweetener. Many people already know that artificial sweeteners like acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose are extremely bad for you. That leaves the natural options, like raw honey, coconut nectar, maple syrup, or dates. These are healthy options if used in moderation, but they are still caloric after all and have a negative effect on blood sugar.

Enter erythritol. In recent years, it has become the leading zero calorie natural sweetener on the market. It is now a common ingredient found in many foods low in sugar and without sugar, artificial sweeteners. It is even added to some natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit.

So is erythritol a safe substitute for sugar? Does it cause side effects? Is it really natural? Is it good for diabetics?

What is erythritol?

Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol or polyol, however it has nothing to do with cocktails or alcoholic beverages because it does not contain ethanol, also known as alcohol. Other common sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, maltitol, and lactitol.

Erythritol is found naturally in some fruits like watermelon, pear, and grapes, mushrooms, and fermented foods like cheese, wine, beer, and sake.

Erythritol was first discovered in 1848 by a Scottish chemist named John Stenhouse. It is up to 80% sweeter than table sugar. Japan has been using erythritol since the early 1990s in candies, jellies, jams, chocolate, yogurt, and beverages as a natural substitute for sugar. It has only gained popularity in the US in recent years.

Sugar alcohols and digestive problems

Sugar alcohols are known to cause digestive problems in certain people. The reason is because they are fermentable carbohydrates that digestive enzymes cannot break down. Instead, microorganisms in our gut break down sugar alcohols into smaller particles through fermentation.

For people with a healthy gut and a balanced microbiome (gut bacteria, both good and bad), fermentable carbohydrates like apples, asparagus, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, and sweet potatoes can be really healthy. They feed beneficial bacteria and help increase their numbers and produce health-promoting compounds such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that protect against leaky gut (intestinal permeability), cancer, and inflammation.

However, not only do fermentable carbohydrates feed the good insects, but bad pathogens, such as gram-negative bacteria, also feed on them. They can produce gas and cause bloating and gastrointestinal upset. They can also produce toxic by-products such as inflammatory endotoxins, cytokines, and lipopolysaccharides (LPS) that are associated with leaky and autoimmune intestinal disorders.

Therefore, for people who have a leaky gut and an unhealthy and unbalanced microbiome, the advice is to avoid eating fermentable carbohydrates, such as those mentioned above, even if they are considered the basis of a healthy diet. This also includes most sugar alcohols.

How Erythritol Is Different From Other Sugar Alcohols

The reason erythritol is different is because it has the simplest molecular structure. Regarding the fermentation potential, the mass (molecular weight) and the number of hydroxyl groups (hydrogen and oxygen atoms bonded together) are the determining factors. The greater the mass and the more hydroxyl groups (-OH) a sugar alcohol has, the greater the potential for fermentation and the risk of digestive upset.

Erythritol has the lowest molecular weight (122.1 g / mol) and the fewest hydroxyl groups (4) compared to xylitol (152.2 and 5), sorbitol (182.2 and 6), mannitol (182.2 and 6), isomalt (344.3 and 9), maltitol (344.3 and 9) and lactitol (344.3 and 9).

According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, erythritol does not ferment or feed any intestinal bacteria. 90% of the erythritol consumed is absorbed from the intestine and excreted in the urine unchanged. The 10% of erythritol that reached the colon was completely resistant to bacterial attack. The researchers found that no gases or short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) were produced as a result of fermentation and that erythritol recovered unchanged after passing through the colon.

For most of the population, erythritol is unlikely to cause gastrointestinal upset like other sugar alcohols. However, people with an unhealthy gut and microbiome should exercise caution. It is best to start with a small amount to see if there are any adverse reactions and not overconsume.

How is erythritol produced commercially?

Erythritol is made by fermenting the natural sugar found in corn with a yeast called Moniliella pollinis. Since 92% of corn in the US is genetically modified, unless the erythritol is identified as non-GMO, it is most likely derived from GMO corn whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way it doesn’t. occur naturally. So if you are looking for a 100% natural product you should stay away from erythritol unless it is not GMO.

Erythritol does not cause cavities

A three-year clinical study showed that erythritol is even better than xylitol and sorbitol when it comes to preventing cavities. The researchers found that erythritol provided a significant reduction in cavities, dental plaque, and mutant Streptococcus oral bacteria, which is considered a leading cause of cavities.

Is erythritol suitable for diabetics and for weight loss?

Erythritol has zero calories; it basically goes through the body. It has a glycemic index of only one and does not affect blood sugar. Therefore, it is a safe sweetener for diabetics.

Despite that, one of the problems with non-caloric artificial sweeteners is that the body does not process them like regular sugar does. When you consume table sugar or other natural sweeteners like honey, your body feels like you are eating “food” and hormones are released to decrease your appetite.

With a non-caloric sweetener, the body can become unsatisfied, resulting in the desire to eat or drink more. Over time, consuming too much erythritol on a regular basis can lead to overeating and weight gain. A study published recently by Cornell University and European scientists found that high erythritol consumption is associated with increased abdominal fat and weight in young adults.

The bottom line

  • Erythritol is the least likely to cause gastrointestinal upset among the sugar alcohols. However, people with a leaky gut and an imbalanced microbiome should exercise caution. The amount consumed also makes a difference.

  • If you use erythritol, always make sure it is not GMO.

  • Erythritol is good for dental health.

  • Erythritol is safe for diabetics, but it may not be the best substitute for sugar if you are looking to lose weight.

  • Erythritol is generally a safe sweetener, but it is only used in moderation.

  • There are other better alternatives to sweeteners:

Stevia is an herbal plant that has been used for more than 1,500 years by natives of Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten foods and beverages, as well as for medicinal purposes. Stevia leaves are unique because, although they are very sweet, they have zero calories and do not raise blood sugar levels. In fact, the researchers found that stevia helped improve conditions for people with metabolic syndrome.

Be sure to buy a high-quality, pure stevia product without harmful additives such as dextrose (a form of sugar), maltodextrin (another form of sugar, may contain MSG), cornstarch (probably GMO), or natural flavors ( they could be anything).

Monk fruit, also called luo han guo, was first used by 13th century Chinese monks in southern China as a sweetener. Its extract is 300 times sweeter than sugar but has no calories and does not affect blood sugar. The downside is that it is relatively expensive and not as readily available as stevia. Make sure to buy monk fruit extract that does not contain additives that are harmful to health.

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